National Statement to the United Nations General Assembly

Speech
25 Sep 2019
New York City, United States of America
Prime Minister
Check against delivery

Much has changed since the United Nations was established.

Australia was there in the beginning. And we are here today because we continue to believe that differences can be resolved through dialogue and mutual respect. 

Because we believe that an international rules-based order is essential for global stability, security and prosperity. 

Because we know that you can’t have prosperity without peace.

The world today is complex and contested. Many fatalistically see a polarised world where countries feel pushed to make binary choices. Australia will continue to resist this path.

Australia will continue to seek to honestly maintain our great alliances and comprehensive partnerships in good repair, from our great and powerful friends to our smallest Pacific Island family neighbours.

Approaching its 75th anniversary next year, the UN must reform and evolve to respond effectively to the challenges of the 21st Century. 

And to fulfil its core mandate, the UN must be ever mindful of the principles and values that have always been foundational to the UN’s efforts.

Peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law. Respect for the sovereignty and independence of all states. Open markets that facilitate the free flow of trade, capital and ideas. Freedom of faith, freedom of expression. Respect for human rights, and combatting disadvantage, discrimination and persecution based on disability, gender, religion, sexuality, age, race or ethnicity. 

These are the liberal democratic values which underpinned the UN at its inception. These are Australia’s values. We believe they should remain the guiding principles and values for the UN into the future.

The alternate path of lowest common denominator transactionalism and relativism is a dead end.

The UN is the prime custodian of the rules-based order.  It is also the custodian of mechanisms for dialogue and adjudication which buttress them. 

It has a challenging task ahead of it.

For Australia’s part, we will continue to practice what we preach.

Last month, Australia ratified a maritime treaty setting out a new sea boundary with Timor‑Leste.

This followed the first-ever conciliation initiated under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

This demonstrates that the UN and its norms are central to a cooperative rules‑based approach to global challenges.

In the Pacific, we are also stepping up. 

Australia is the single largest development partner for Pacific Island nations. 

This is an instinctive response for Australia, consistent with our clear national interest and our commitment to our Pacific family, our vuvale, our whanau.

Our goal is simple - a Southwest Pacific that is secure strategically, stable economically, sovereign politically and sustainable environmentally.

The UN’s work in partnership with Australia has also helped to build a more sustainable and resilient Pacific: to support local climate change actions and resilience, to strive for gender equality through the empowerment of women and girls, to support continuing improvement in health outcomes and to bolster regional peace, including through the Bougainville Referendum Support Project.

Today I want to take the opportunity to speak about Australia’s response to the great global environmental challenges. 

Firstly how Australia is acting to protect our oceans.

Australia is an island continent. 

Australia has the world’s third largest maritime jurisdiction, stretching from the great Southern Ocean to the vast Pacific and Indian oceans.

Over 85 per cent of Australia’s population lives within just 50 kilometres of the coast. 

Australia’s Indigenous peoples have been linked to the land and sea for more than 65,000 years.

Our oceans connect Australia with the world. Ninety nine per cent of Australia’s trade by volume is carried by sea. By 2025, marine industries will contribute around $100 billion each year to our economy. 

Our prosperity and security rely on the established laws that govern freedom of navigation, be it in the Strait of Hormuz or closer to home.

Protecting our oceans is also one of the world’s more pressing environmental challenges.

To protect our oceans, Australia is committed to leading urgent action to combat plastic pollution choking our oceans; tackle over-exploitation of our fisheries, prevent ocean habitat destruction and of course take action on climate change.

Scientists estimate that in just 30 years’ time the weight of plastics in our oceans will exceed the weight of the fish in those oceans.

Recently, I announced that Australia will ban exports of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, and we anticipate that starting in 2020. That’s about 1.4 million tonnes of potent recyclable material.

Australia is also leading on practical research and development into recycling - turning recycled plastic and glass into roads, manufacturing 100% recycled PET bottles and capturing methane and waste to create energy. 

New technologies are coming on line with the potential to recycle used plastics into valuable new plastics - creating a circular plastics economy. 

These include innovations like ‘bioplastics’ - compostable plastic replacements and technologies like the ‘Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor’ - an innovative Australian designed technology that converts end of life plastics into waxes, diesel and new plastics. 

These innovations show us a truly circular economy is not only possible, but is achievable. And it’s of course, essential. And Australia intends to do more.

Australia will invest $167 million in an Australian Recycling Investment Plan.  

Our focus is to create the right investment environment so that new technologies are commercialised - preventing pollution from entering our oceans, and creating valuable new products.

Australia supports the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy and we are working through the International Maritime Organization to address the way shipping contributes to plastics pollution in our oceans.

Australia supports the G20 work on marine plastic debris and the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision led of course by Prime Minister Abe.

We welcome the contributions and leadership from business and the private sector to address these challenges, including Australia’s own Minderoo Foundation. Industry led mechanisms for investing in new recycling technologies and mitigating plastic waste in rivers, beaches and oceans on a global scale is absolutely essential.

We must also act to safeguard the sustainability of our fisheries. This means cracking down on illegal fishing. 

There are too many nations standing by while their nationals are thieving the livelihoods of their neighbours.

Australia is acting not only in our own interest but helping Pacific Island family to reduce illegal fishing which depletes the fish stocks Pacific Islanders rely on for jobs, revenue and their food security.

We have also worked together with Indonesia, and I congratulate President Widodo, we have been co-committed to an action plan to combat illegal fishing in Southeast Asia and thank Indonesia for their regional leadership.

And we are working with regional organisations to improve fisheries governance.

As well, we are providing patrol boats to 13 countries supported by aerial surveillance through our Pacific Maritime Security Program in Pacific Island nations to help them police illegal fishing in their waters.

We are leading efforts to preserve natural habitats and biodiversity, including through partnerships with other countries to protect migratory birds and their habitats.

And we have worked hard to prevent commercial whaling and to end whaling in the Southern Ocean.

Australia set up the International Partnership for Blue Carbon in 2015 with the aim of protecting and conserving mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

And our Great Barrier Reef remains one of the world’s most pristine areas of natural beauty.  Feel free to visit it. Our reef is vibrant and resilient and protected under the world’s most comprehensive reef management plan.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has found that Australia’s management of our reef is ‘highly sophisticated’ and is considered by many as the ‘gold standard’ for large scale marine protected areas.

Australia’s $2 billion Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan is based on the best available science and draws on 40 years of analysis, underpinned by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. 

Australia’s continued support for reef, coral and water quality science will ensure that the Great Barrier Reef remains one of the best managed World Heritage sites in the world.

Now, Australia is also taking real action on climate change and we are  getting results.

We are successfully balancing our global responsibilities with sensible and practical policies to secure our environmental and our economic future. 

Australia’s internal and global critics on climate change willingly overlook or perhaps ignore our achievements, as the facts simply don’t fit the narrative they wish to project about our contribution.

Australia is responsible for just 1.3 per cent of global emissions. Australia is doing our bit on climate change and we reject any suggestion to the contrary.

By 2020 Australia will have overachieved on our Kyoto commitments, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 367 million tonnes more than required to meet our 2020 Kyoto target. Now there are few member countries, whether at this forum or the OECD who can make this claim.

Our latest estimates show both emissions per person and the emissions intensity of the economy are at their lowest levels in 29 years.

In 2012, it was estimated Australia would release some 693 million tonnes of emissions in 2020. As of 2018, this estimate has fallen to 540 million tonnes.

Australia’s electricity sector is producing less emissions. In the year to March 2019, emissions from Australia’s electricity sector were 15.7 per cent lower than the peak recorded in the year to June 2009.

While we are a resource rich country, it is important to note that Australia only accounts for around 5.5 per cent of the world’s coal production.

Having met and we will exceed our Kyoto targets, Australia will meet our Paris commitments as well and we stand by them.

We are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

This is a credible, fair, responsible and achievable contribution to global climate change action. It represents a halving of our emissions per person in Australia, or a two thirds reduction in emissions per unit of GDP.

At the centre of our domestic efforts is a $3.5 billion Climate Solutions Plan that I successfully took to our recent national election – supporting practical projects like capturing methane from waste, revegetation of degraded land and soil carbon.

Through our Climate Solutions Plan, we are supporting the transition to renewable energy – with projects such as Snowy 2.0, the largest pumped hydro station project in the Southern Hemisphere.

And we are investing significantly in research and development to use the best science and business expertise to commercialise new renewable technologies and integrate renewables into our electricity grid. 

Australia now has the highest per capita investment in clean energy technologies of anywhere in the world and one in five Australian households has rooftop solar systems.

In 2018, $13.2 billion was invested in clean energy technologies in Australia. This builds on the estimated $10 billion invested in 2017.

We are also doing the right thing by our neighbours. 

We recently committed to invest a further 500 million Australian dollars over five years from 2020 for renewable energy, climate change and resilience in the Pacific.

We have decided to invest this directly from within our international overseas development programme, rather than through additional budget commitments to the Global Green Climate Fund. 

This enables us to target our support directly to Pacific Island nations, ensuring they receive this support more directly, in a more timely and targeted fashion.

At the same time, it provides greater transparency, fairness and accountability to Australian taxpayers who rightly demand attention and support from Government to address challenges at home, in particular bosting drought resilience through our investment in our national water grid infrastructure.

Australia is also committed with other countries to the Montreal Protocol, an agreement that will help protect the world from ozone depletion and combat climate change.

Under the Montreal Protocol, Australia will further accelerate its efforts and will use 60 per cent less HCFCs than permitted. I can proudly inform you that Australia is on track to fulfil our commitments and I urge all other countries to fulfil their commitments. 

All of this adds up to significant and comprehensive action by Australia in response to the world’s greatest environmental challenges.

Australia is under no illusions about the challenges the global community confronts in the years ahead.

Today I want to reassure all members that Australia is carrying its own weight and more, just as we always have.

We are a generous nation playing our part in securing our shared future.

Reforming the rules of global governance, setting common standards to ensure global connectivity in the future, preventing conflict, building the capacity of developing nations, supporting essential health projects, protecting our oceans and taking action on climate change and getting results.

Like many leaders here, I get many letters from children in Australia concerned about their future.

I take them very seriously and I deeply respect their concerns and indeed I welcome their passion, especially when it comes to the environment.

My impulse is always to seek to respond positively and to encourage them. To provide context, perspective and particularly to generate hope.

To focus their minds and direct their energies to practical solutions and positive behaviour that will deliver enduring results for them.

To encourage them to learn more about science, technology, engineering and maths – because it’s through research, innovation and enterprise that the practical work of successfully managing our very real environmental challenges is achieved. 

We must respect and harness the passion and aspiration of our younger generations, we must guard against others who would seek to compound or, worse, facelessly exploit their anxiety for their own agendas. We must similarly not allow their concerns to be dismissed or diminished as this can also increase their anxiety. What parent could do otherwise?

Our children have a right not just to their future but to their optimism.

Above all, we should let our children be children, let our kids be kids, let our teenagers be teenagers - while we work positively together to deliver the practical solutions for them and their future.

I am confident, once again, that Australia stands with you and together we have the wit and the capacity to surmount the challenges that come our way. Just as those who have come before us in this place have done, consistent with the values that have made that possible.

I thank you for your attention.